Photography by Kadeem Ellis

Contouring and Highlighting Tips For Darker Skin Tones

Foundation is a hot topic these days. With more makeup brands jumping to broaden their foundation shade range, now more than ever, it’s a wonder how those same lines aren’t offering more inclusive highlight and contouring options for women of colour, especially those with deeper skin tones.

For Tasia Richards, a Toronto-based makeup junkie, she often feels some beauty brands just “don’t care.”

Tasia Richards

“I’m a dark-skinned black woman and [in the past] there would never be makeup shades to complement my skin colour in drugstores,” she explains. “The last resort [due to price] would be going to M.A.C, Sephora or department stores. It used to be very discouraging and very expensive.” It sent a message that makeup companies didn’t care to cater to women of colour, says Richards.

Daneille Mattis, a Jamaican-born makeup artist with over 20,000 Instagram followers, agrees, sharing that even as a professional, finding diverse contour and highlighting products in Canada can be a challenge.

Thankfully, Mattis still has some great recommendations for brands she believes are here for women of colour of all shades. Among her picks are AJ Crimson, Make Up For Ever, and Graftobian, all of which have extensive shade ranges.

Fenty Beauty came onto the scene back in September 2017, and the Killawatt highlighters, along with the Match Stix trio sets got rave reviews from brown-skinned women of various ethnicities.

Black Opal is a beauty brand that has been focused on creating products specifically for women of colour since its inception in 1994. Their True Colour Skin Perfecting Stick Foundation SPF15 is a great contouring tool that comes in 16 different shades, ranging from “Cool Nude” to “Ebony Brown.”

Other major beauty brands like Huda Beauty have recently created products like the Bronze Sands highlight kits in an effort to be more inclusive of deeper tones. While there’s no official release date for this product yet, Huda Kattan, the owner of Huda Beauty, released some teasers videos on her YouTube and Snapchat channels.

However, Vanessa Adams, a social media strategist in Toronto, says that while she enjoys using the Fenty Beauty Killawatt Ginger Binge/Moscow Mule highlighter duo, she has yet to find her contour match.

“In general, it’s very hard to find contouring products for women like me, who are literally at the end of the tonal spectrum,” the 28-year-old asserts. “I just find it very amusing that we have brow pomade that is dark enough to show up on my skin, but I can’t get a contour shade to save my life. Sometimes I just want a beat face, but here we are.”

But what’s the secret to finding the perfect shades as a woman of colour when there’s actually product available for you? Mattis says it’s all about understanding your unique undertone.

“These are the tones that shine through your skin—warm, cool or neutral,” she explains. “Choose products with that same undertone. For instance, yellow-based products are better suited for someone with a warmer undertone, while red-based products are most suitable for cooler undertones. Then of course, we should always keep in mind that when selecting your contour, it must be two or three shades darker than your complexion and when selecting a highlight, it should always be a few shades lighter.”

Women of colour, specifically, often have multiple tones in their skin, explains Mattis, which can make finding the right contour shade more difficult, but she shares some hacks on how to spot yours.

“One easy way is look at the veins on your wrist,” she suggests. “If they appear green then you may have more of a warm, yellow undertone. And if they appear blue, this means that you have more of a cool, red undertone.”

“Another way is to test similar foundation shades with different undertones,” Mattis adds. “You can do this at a makeup counter nearby. Test the shades side by side on your forehead, chin and cheeks. If you are warm, olive or neutral, you would be able to tell that a cool foundation will look red on your skin. If you are cool, a warm foundation will appear grey or ashy.”

The seasoned makeup artist also shares that the same rules apply for highlighter.

“Gold highlighters will always complement deeper skin that has a warm, olive or neutral undertone,” she explains. “A champagne or pink-based highlighter would complement deeper skin with more of a cool undertone.”

As for the brands makeup lovers seem to be praising for finally adding some darker hues to their product lines, Mattis says that while it’s appreciated, it should just be seen as the logical choice.

“I don’t think brands deserve any additional praise for being inclusive,” the makeup artist asserts. “I believe that all brands should seek to strike a balance in their shade ranges by ensuring an equal amount of dark and light shades. This should be standard.”